Before starting to define the concept of blended learning, its important to know the most unobtrusive fact about the concept – that it has been around in disguise for eons and its immortality is undisputable. Simply put, unblended learning is something unimaginable. Learning has always involved blending of different methods and only the uninitiated can think of a learning environment where a computer can carry out all the aspects of training without the assistance from other media. Though this term found entry into the e learning jargon only lately, we have been using blended learning since time immemorial. Teachers using different forms of exercises right from story telling and toys to using charts and reading aloud for training toddlers are using blended learning techniques.
Blended learning in corporate training
Blended learning fast seems to be replacing e learning in corporate training, if not elsewhere. Corporate training programs aim at improving revenue, reducing costs and enhance teamwork in general, rather than focusing on the individual development of employees. Learners, too, learn with a view to becoming effective at their jobs rather than for the sake of increasing knowledge. Keeping these trends in mind, blended learning can best address the needs of a corporate training program, since different sets of learners require different delivery methods. The key to enhance results lies in offering the perfect amalgam of media and delivery as per the requirement of a particular program. Learning experiences are categorized into steps in a blended learning model and the learner’s progression from one step to another keeps on building upon the previous learning experiences. This forms a ladder through which learners keep on climbing rung after rung to blossom into a tree of collaboration from the sapling of education. Organizations have graduated from the basic information exchange level to the level of expertise – all within scheduled time frames and fixed costs through blended learning techniques. A blended learning model allows the ease of combining either elements from a particular level, or complete levels to arrive at a single learning solution. The blend that a company selects depends upon various factors including requirements, costs, time on hand and available content.
Basic elements of blended learning
Broadly, blended learning models comprise of the following elements, mixed in varied proportions according to an organization’s requirements. Blended learning can be classified into
Learning through information
Learning through interaction
Learning through collaboration and
Learning through classroom experiences
E learning technology can be put to good use while learning through information, interaction and collaboration. This not only reduces cost attributed to enlarged periods of non productive activity on the part of the employees, commuting and employing instructors, but also creates reusable content, and reiterates core messages and concepts to ingrain them in the minds of the learners. At the same time, the classroom sessions develop interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate face to face.
Learning through information
Material based information is the first coherent step towards starting a learning program. Web based material can now be handed to the learners, thanks to e learning techniques, which can render the learning program easy to deliver and faster to implement. Making the information accessible all the time will give learners the liberty of scrolling through the content at their own convenience, which, in turn, will enhance understanding and enthusiasm.
Learning through interaction
The learner-instructor, learner-content, learner-learner, and learner-infrastructure interactions become all the more important in a blended learning environment. Web can assist all the above mentioned forms of interaction, which, together, help retain the knowledge that is acquired through information .Web simulations of real life situations allow learners to apply their knowledge practically, without the possibility of them affecting your business directly.
Learning through collaboration
Collaborative learning includes peer to peer discussions, conference calls, chat, team rooms and instant messaging. Technology has enhanced the concept of collaboration manifold, where learners, even though geographically remote, can communicate in real time. The collaborative environment also heightens the chances of collaboration between e learners and subject matter experts (SMEs).
Learning through classroom interactions
Conventional, tested and, by far, one of the most effective approaches to learning, classrooms are the best places to personally connect to peers and instructors. No technology can replace the advantages of this approach, which is exactly why no e learning or blended learning model will skip this element for any reason. But, as one would like to believe, blended learning has never attempted to replace classroom based learning. On the contrary, technology based learning takes care of the basic, mechanical and mundane aspects of learning to allow classroom based training centre around discussions on already learnt subject matter and behavioral and psychological modifications.
Blended learning involves the appropriate blend of varied components including courses, content portions, IM pings, blog feedback, and many other things. The ubiquitous problems of speed, scale and impact associated with most e learning models can be successfully solved by blended learning. Applying blended learning to all your learning needs will definitely leverage your organization vis a vis your competitors.
Viswanath Shankar has been managing and maintaining various e learning softwares for the past decade and a half. A storehouse of knowledge about LMS (Learning Management Systems), he is aware of the impact e learning can have on the academic as well as corporate learning. He has been working in close co-ordination with web development experts to develop user friendly distance learning programs. It takes a professional like him to declare the big time arrival of e learning as a worthy substitute to conventional learning techniques.